Fiction writers face all sorts of fears: fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the blank page, fear of running out of ideas, fear that this internal something that drives us to create is destructive, because all we’ve managed to put on paper so far is criminally bad… The list goes on.
Recently, I’ve realized one of the biggest writing-related fears I face is what I call the naked-in-church fear. The nightmare reportedly is common: There you are on Sunday morning, filing into the sanctuary along with everyone else, when suddenly you realize you aren’t wearing a stitch of clothing … and everyone is staring. “Oh dear,” you think, blushing scarlet from head to foot. “I know I was wearing something besides my birthday suit when I left the house. Of all the places to be caught in the nude. I’ll never live this down.”
Most dream interpretations attribute the naked-in-church nightmare to fear of exposure: as a fraud, as wanton beneath a prim exterior, as someone who harbors dark secrets. Psychologists often say the dream is an attempt by the subconscious to inform the dreamer he is being disloyal to himself by hiding something.
Regardless how emotionally close we are to friends and family, there are just some things humans don’t want others to know, and writers are no exception. Like everyone else, we pile on the layers of clothing before we head out to church. However, what makes good fiction phenomenal is the writer’s ability to “bleed” onto the page; to open veins and let emotions and visceral experiences flow through our characters in order to move readers with the same force they moved us. To do that, we must peel off the emotional equivalent of our Sunday best.
Right now, I’m working on a scene that’s quite a bit different from anything I’ve written before. It’s been a pure battle to make the words work. I’ve changed point of view twice. I’ve moved the characters to another setting. I’ve played with the weather, which has absolutely nothing to do with the action because the characters are indoors. I’ve even ripped out the whole darn scene and started over.
That’s when I realized I was wearing too many clothes.
Now, someone with a firm grip on decorum might take a moment to close her eyes, breathe deeply, and attempt to crawl inside her characters’ skin. Sadly, I am not someone with a firm grip on decorum. Instead of walking the more conventional path, I decided to confront the naked-in-church fear head-on. Why not? I had the house to myself, except for the dogs. I would show that fear who was boss.
Dogs (and pleather chairs, which can be remarkably cold, I discovered) have the most uncanny ability to knock ridiculous notions right out of a person. All three of the canine critics raised their heads, yawned, and then filed from the room.
Not one of my finer moments. On the positive side, at least now I have a visceral connection to a couple of emotions that ought to be useful somewhere.
There is much to be gained from confronting one’s fears. The next time I confront one of mine, though, I believe I’ll take a less radical approach.
(Image by ForestWander, a father-and-son team of nature photographers in West Virginia. Used with permission.)